Aug 22

Make Back-To-School A “Green” Event

Photograph courtesy of tncountryfan/Flickr, Creative Commons license

Photograph courtesy of tncountryfan/Flickr, Creative Commons license

What motivates people to save energy? This year, the Great Energy Challenge launched a project, the 360º Energy Diet, designed in part to tackle this very question. (Another round of the diet begins this fall.) For some people who joined, it was the idea of living a simpler, less wasteful lifestyle. Others liked the idea of losing weight, whether it was literally shedding pounds by switching to less energy-intensive eating habits, or lightening their monthly bills by saving on electricity and other expenses.

survey released earlier this year by the consulting firms Deloitte and the Harrison Group confirms that financial incentives can motivate changes in energy use. Sixty-eight percent of respondents agreed with the statement “I/Our family took several extra steps to reduce our electric bill as a result of the recession.” Even more striking, 95 percent of those consumers have no plans to go back to their pre-recession spending habits, even if the economy improves.

Operating on this same “green” (i.e. monetary) concept, the company Recyclebank offers consumers in the United States and the United Kingdom discounts and deals in exchange for everyday planet-friendly actions such as recycling electronics or cutting energy use at home. Looking ahead to the school year, when many families are making lots of new purchases and preparing students to participate in many new activities, Recyclebank offers these tips for a less resource-intensive back-to-school season:

Pack waste-free lunches: It’s estimated that Americans go through 100 billion plastic bags a year- this averages to 360 bags per person. Purchase a reusable lunch bag or box for your child, and fill reusable bottles with water or juice. If you do use plastic bags, reuse and recycle them. Clean and dry Ziploc® bags can be recycled at most grocery stores where you drop off plastic shopping bags.

Encourage school cafeterias to buy local:
 At the next PTA meeting, discuss the topic with other parents and consider connecting with school administrators about bringing local food to the cafeteria for sustainable and healthy lunches. Contact the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service for resources and information on farm-to-school programs.

Conserve paper:
 Remind your family to only print when truly necessary. If you must print, do it on 100-percent recycled paper, which is often cheaper than paper made from trees. Consider investing in eReaders and tablet computers; your children can use them for school assignments and you forgo buying paper books, newspapers and magazines.

Choose sustainable school supplies:
 In the United States alone, approximately 11,600 incense-cedar trees are cut down to create the 2 billion pencils made each year. To minimize your environmental footprint, opt for school supplies wrapped in limited packaging and recycle what you can. Seek out greener supplies like recycled or mechanical pencils, refillable pens and paper clips made from recycled steel.

“Upcycle” last year’s supplies: Three-ring binders that are still in great working order can be refurbished at home. Cover the entire exterior of the binder with a sheet of cork contact paper, then trim to size for a clean, modern looking folder.

Recycle old electronics: If you’re upgrading your family’s electronics this year, be mindful of recycling old models (Recyclebank offers rewards for this). Don’t forget to recycle the batteries too.

Green your wardrobe: Shop in vintage or thrift stores to suspend the life of clothing, or even arrange a clothing swap with friends or relatives. When buying new clothes, look for those made with sustainable fabrics like organic cotton and bamboo.

Streamline transportation:
 Use school or public buses when at all possible to reduce emissions. If you must drive, arrange a carpool. Getting bikes (and helmets) for the whole family is the most efficient way to go – and fun and healthy too.

In order to up the ante on many of these actions, Recyclebank is holding a Green Your School Year Challenge that begins Wednesday and goes through Sept. 30. The highest scorers can win prizes including $2,500 gift cards to Macy’s, electric bicycles and e-readers. No matter what your motivation, the fall season offers a good opportunity to reevaluate some of the choices we make every year, and possibly get some “green” in the process.

Aug 11

Barbie Goes Green

Barbie gets a green roof

Posted: 2011-08-10 21:58:03 UTC

Kaid Benfield, Director, Sustainable Communities & Smart Growth, Washington, DC

I vacationed in Prague not long ago and wandered into a museum full of Barbie dolls.  Pretty impressive, in its way.  Barbie has come a long way over the years, and her newest incarnation over the years, and her newest incarnation is as an architect with a green home.

Architect Barbie (via Inhabitat)Bridgette Meinhold previewed Architect Barbie in Inhabitat:

“Various people and organizations have long been vying to get Barbie to become an architect and, finally in 2010, Mattel agreed.  University of Buffalo professor Despina Stratigakos and Kelly Hayes McAlonie consulted for Mattel and made suggestions about Architect Barbie’s clothing and her accessories.  While many disapprove of Architect Barbie’s choice of footwear, the architecture plan tube, and her choice of pink, the designers had good reason to choose all the items. They had to find a balance between stereotypes and pushing the boundaries.”  

I don’t have a big problem with that, actually, and would sooner hire an Architect Barbie than a hypothetical Architect Ken to design my building.

If I did, chances are the building might have some cool green features.  This summer, the American Institute of Architects held a design competition for Architect Barbie’s “Dream House.”  Among the guidelines, according to Meinhold, were that the home should reflect “the best sustainable design principles” with a smart home office, a top of the line kitchen “and tons of space to entertain.”

Architect Barbie's Dream House (via AIA)

The winning entry, designed by Ting Li and Maja Parklar, provides Barbie with the latest technology.  From the AIA press release announcing the winner:

“The winning house design features entertaining space and chef’s open kitchen on the first floor, along with an office / library / meeting space. There is also a terrace on the second floor.  The third and fourth floors are Barbie® doll’s private enclave, her bedroom and her inspiration room respectively.  The roof has a green house and a landscaped garden for her domestic pets.  The design elements include solar panels, landscaped rooftop and irrigation system, operable shading devices, bamboo flooring, low flow toilet and sink fixtures, and locally sourced and manufactured materials and furnishings.”

Go here for Meinhold’s latest coverage of the dream house, and lots of good images.

Of course, this being an AIA competition, the house has nearly 5,000 square feet of living space and is sited on a three-acre lot in Malibu with a three-car garage.  The Institute isn’t known for giving much weight to green locations with walkability and transportation choices in its competitions, unfortunately.  So I think “the best sustainable design principles” should come with a disclaimer in this case.  Even Barbie can’t have everything, apparently.

The series on NRDC’s sustainable communities agenda will resume tomorrow.

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog’s home page.